After this past presidential election, it’s easy to get depressed. In the microcosm, it seems like things are going badly, because we notice all the setbacks — and of course, there are some huge setbacks, and they’re real! — and don’t so much notice the steady progress in the background. With that in mind,
Ten years ago, no US state formally recognized same-sex relationships. Now Vermont has civil unions and Massachusetts has marriage equality. (To be fair, many states have also put prohibitions on same-sex marriage in their constitutions, but still, there are two states where same-sex relationships are recognized.) About half the Canadian provinces recognize same-sex marriages, and it seems likely that the whole country will soon. An increasing number of European countries recognize same-sex marriages.
On a similar topic, when I moved out east to go to college in 1984, one of the cool things about going to an Ivy League university in the urban Northeast was that there was an organized queer community. (I didn’t interact with it a whole lot, but I knew it was there.) Now there’s a GLBT center at the small university in my hometown in rural Illinois, and in pretty much every public or secular university like it throughout the country, including at a lot of places where such an organization simply wouldn’t have been tolerated by the other students or the administration 20 years ago.
Two good friends of mine got married in the United States (just a couple years before I met them) when one of them was here studying. At the time, they not only could not have gotten married in their home country, but because they were different colours, they could not legally have lived in the same neighbourhood. Shortly after the election as president of the man who had said at his trial for treason ‘I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die,’ they moved back to South Africa with their child into a lovely house a few doors down from the house of one set of parents.
Fifty years ago in much of the United States, people of different colours couldn't get married either, or live in the same neighbourhoods, or go to the same schools (and guess whose schools were better funded?) or eat at the same lunch counters or use the same water fountains.
Sixty years ago in this country, large numbers of people were sent to internment camps solely on the basis of their ancestry (actually, a combination of ancestry and appearance, since Americans of German and Italian ancestry were not sent to internment camps as those of Japanese ancestry were). In Europe at the same time, the wholesale genocide of millions of people in extermination camps was ongoing.
Just a few years earlier, it had looked like Nazism might well be the long-term future of Europe, and Nazism’s ideological cousins were doing well in other parts of the world. Meanwhile, European colonialism, sometimes more brutal and sometimes less so, was flourishing in Africa and Asia.
A hundred years ago, women in the United States (and much of the world) could not vote.
A hundred and fifty years ago, most black people in this country were legally owned by white people. (I’m not sure about the “most” at that particular date but I suspect it was true; it certainly was earlier.)
Five hundred years ago, it was widely considered acceptable in Europe to torture or kill people whose particular sect of Christianity was different from the prevailing one in a region.
So taking the long view, even on a scale of twenty years or so, it looks to me like things are getting better rather than worse.